Luciana Berger pledges to help women follow in her footsteps
Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger
Britain’s youngest Jewish MP said this week that she feels a sense of "responsibility" to lead the way for more women to enter leadership positions in politics, communal life and business.
"We have an issue that we don’t have enough women in positions of leadership. That’s not just in the Jewish community," she said.
"I feel as a woman I have a responsibility. I don’t think I’m special. I’m here because of other people encouraging me to put myself forward and who have been very supportive. There’s no reason that any other woman can’t do the same. Anything I can do to encourage other women, I will."
Elected to Parliament three years ago at the age of 28, Ms Berger is now the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and is seen in Westminster as a rising star.
She was speaking in the week she helped launch a Board of Deputies project that will see successful women in the community join Board senior vice-president Laura Marks in supporting newly-elected and younger female deputies.
The Liverpool Wavertree MP, who is also a deputy for Liverpool Reform Synagogue, admitted that working to increase the number of women in leading roles in public life was "hard", but acknowledged there was a need to redress the balance in "boardrooms, the judiciary, the police, and businesses".
She praised the Board’s success at increasing its number of female deputies, pointing out that, proportionately, there were more of them than women in Parliament.
Ms Berger has also taken a leading role in the Jewish community’s efforts on the IF global anti-hunger project, which was discussed at the G8 conference in Northern Ireland this week.
She worked with World Jewish Relief to host a launch event for the campaign in Parliament and acknowledged the number of British Jews contributing to the efforts to end food poverty both domestically and abroad.
"Half a million people in this country have had to access emergency food aid in the past year," she said.
"I’ve worked very closely with my local food bank in Liverpool. The Jewish community across the country is really playing its part with collections for food banks. People definitely care about food poverty. My responsibility is to get the government to recognise that there’s a problem and then get it to act.
"As an MP you can issue a food voucher to a constituent who needs one. It’s a really difficult topic to broach; people are actually quite ashamed.
"It’s regrettable that the Prime Minister hasn’t met anyone who actually uses a food bank in order to understand why — in the 21st century, here in the seventh most industrialised nation in the world — people are having to access emergency food aid, and not just in small numbers."
Since her election, Ms Berger has regularly been targeted by critics in the media and on internet forums, and has also been the victim of more serious incidents.
In December 2010 she reported a stalker to Parliamentary authorities, and in a case earlier this year the owner of a music venue was fined for racially abusing her at an awards ceremony in Liverpool.
Such incidents are “just a by-product of the job”, Ms Berger said.
“It’s not easy to put your head above the parapet and it’s not always easy to be brave. I tell my constituents all the time that if there are any issues [of abuse or attack] they have to report them. I have to lead by example and do the same.
“As a politician people will always find a reason to hate you. People ‘hate me’ because I am Jewish in the same way they might ‘hate’ one of my colleagues because he’s gay, or a Muslim. People find a reason to dislike you and abuse you. You just have to get on with it. All my colleagues experience it in different ways.
“Politics has its unpleasant sides to it. What motivates and drives me is that I’m able to rise above it, try to develop a thick skin and do my best on behalf of my constituents.”
Ms Berger attributed much of her success in politics to the "massive inspiration" provided by Alan Senitt, the former Union of Jewish Students chairman who was murdered while working in the United States in 2006.
"It was because of him and his support and encouragement that I put together my first manifesto for a student election at Birmingham University. I think of him a lot.
"I grew up with Alan, he was two years older than me and he was an incredible person. I have no doubt he would have been one of my colleagues here today if he was still with us."
Before her election Ms Berger spent three years as director of Labour Friends of Israel.
Steps currently being taken by members of Ed Miliband’s shadow team to work more closely with Israeli financial institutions and technological groups represent a period of "positivity", said Ms Berger.
"LFI is doing incredible work taking delegations over to Israel and making the progressive case. To have Ed Miliband and [Shadow Foreign Secretary] Douglas Alexander talk in no uncertain terms about the peace process is really positive.
"It’s crucial that people know what’s going on in the region, and that they see it for themselves first hand. I had the privilege when I was LFI director to take 53 MPs and Lords to Israel. I shall never forget that incredible experience."